The Impact of Supportive Online Spaces
The internet provides an unprecedented space for frank and open conversation about controversial issues. Read how online platforms helped one woman understand her sexuality.
When I was in elementary school, I was really afraid that I was a lesbian. Gay people had always been presented to me as an “other”. As in, “No, six-year-old Joan, you can’t get married to your best friend Catherine, that’s what gay people do.” So when I started having feelings for girls in my class, I was worried about what that meant about me and my character.
After a while, I moved on from this crisis. I regularly had crushes on boys, and you obviously can’t be into both boys and girls at the same time. When bisexuality did come up, it was always in a negative context. “I don’t get bisexual people,” my mom would say. “You can only be attracted to one gender at a time. Just choose!” My dad would agree and we would move on. Case closed.
Eventually, I got to college. I started at a historically women’s institution, where the accepting campus culture let people play with how they presented themselves and their gender. For the first time in my life, I was meeting people who presented themselves in a masculine way but did not necessarily identify as men. And I was attracted to a few of them! I had no idea how to respond to these feelings. No label seemed to fit me right. Especially not bisexuality; the term implied to me that I would strictly be into feminine-presenting women and masculine-presenting men. Not knowing what to do, I just ignored this part of myself.
One day, while goofing off on the internet, I stumbled upon a post about sexual orientations that included the term androsexual: “Someone who is sexually attracted to people who present in a masculine way, regardless of sex or gender”. I immediately connected with the term. Suddenly, I didn’t have to discount this aspect of my sexuality. The way I felt was legitimate! Other people are attracted to people in the same way I am!
My experience has instilled in me a deep belief that online sex education is critically important. The internet is an unprecedented resource – now, even if one lives in a community that is not literate in LGBT issues, one can still discover information on the topic. Online, just like on Swearer Sparks, people share their stories and hear about the experiences of others. This culture of openness, coupled with the anonymity a username provides, creates the perfect space for discussing sexuality. Sex positivity websites like the one run by the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health in Rhode Island or Brown’s SHAG take advantage of this. There, sexuality is not discussed in hushed tones— instead, honest information is shared in an open and inclusive environment.
The Brown community knows the power of online spaces. My Facebook feed is consistently filled with links and productive discussions about issues facing us. Facebook groups for queer students and those fighting against sexual violence have been particularly important spaces for support and education for hundreds of Brown students. Spreading online resources has become one of the many ways this community supports each other. I am so grateful that I am a part of it. This type of advocacy is a powerful way to transform how we understand ourselves and others.